Review

The minimum age of criminal responsibility, international variation, and the Dual Systems Model in neurodevelopment

Published in: Journal of Child & Adolescent Mental Health
Volume 31, issue 3, 2019 , pages: 224–234
DOI: 10.2989/17280583.2019.1692851
Author(s): Anthony L PillayDepartment of Behavioural Medicine, South Africa

Abstract

Considering the numbers of children and adolescents in conflict with the law, there is a concern about the ways in which they are being dealt with in the criminal justice system. This paper examines issues relating to the minimum age of criminal responsibility, the differences across countries, and the broad principles and international guidelines in this regard. Additionally, the rebuttable presumption of doli incapax, which is included in many legal systems, is discussed. This is done specifically with concerns regarding the psychological evaluation of criminal capacity, considering the lack of valid and reliable measures, as well as the vagueness of the concept of criminal capacity. An examination of the neurodevelopment evidence in relation to children’s criminal behaviour, risk taking, and impulse control are discussed. The latest research evidence raises doubt about the extent to which adolescents can be held criminally responsible. The responsibility of expert witnesses to enlighten courts on this matter is crucial to avoid unnecessarily criminalising children and adolescents who may not have the requisite capacity to be held criminally liable.

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